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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Monday, September 26, 2011.
1) An ad Thomas Friedman would support. Wouldn't he?

Thomas Friedman is forever complaining about America's "addiction" to oil. It's a silly use of the term, though others (including President Bush) have adopted. A new ad promoting the recovery of oil from oil sands "vexes the Saudis." I sure can see why.

The New York Times reports:
Advocates of oil sand production are arguing that the human rights record of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern oil exporters makes oil sands a more ethical energy source, particularly for the United States. How successful they will be with Americans remains to be seen. But their argument has clearly caught the attention of the government of Saudi Arabia. Canada’s largest private broadcaster, CTV, has refused to show a television commercial produced by the Ethical Oil Institute, an oil sands advocacy group, after receiving a threat of legal action from a lawyer representing the Saudis. Lawyers for the Saudis have contacted other broadcasters as well in an effort to block the 30-second advertisement. So far, the main result of the Saudis’ effort has been unexpected publicity for the ad, which had previously been seen only by a relatively small cable television audience, and as a minor diplomatic dispute.
King Abdullah has just granted women the right to vote.

2) How enlightened of them

You might recall that when the Palestinians were unhappy with Condoleezza Rice, they portrayed her in a unflattering light. Now Challah Hu Akbar notes that President Obama is getting similar treatment.

3) Worry too much, too little or just enough?

Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post writes The real threat in Egypt: Delayed democracy. Diehl relying on his sources disputes the notion that Egypt is "imploding."
The great problem here is that elections are the most likely means of arresting the downward spiral. Five of the leading six candidates for president are responsible secular centrists; the runaway favorite, so far, is former foreign minister and Arab League general secretary Amr Moussa. Moussa may be a recent convert to liberal democracy, and he is known for striking populist poses against Israel. But he would almost certainly run a better government than the military and give the economy a chance to recover. True, Islamist parties may win a plurality in the parliamentary elections. Estimates of their potential vote range from 10 to 40 percent. But that still means they would hold a minority of seats; and the Islamists themselves are divided into several factions. The strongest of them recognize that they will not be able to force a fundamentalist agenda on Egypt’s secular middle class or its large Christian minority, at least in the short and medium terms. What about Israel? Moussa was recently quoted as saying that the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty is “untouchable” and that the sacking of the Israeli embassy in Cairo this month was “unacceptable.” Every major political party in Cairo has denounced the embassy attack, and while some have called for renegotiating the treaty’s security provisions, none wants to cancel it. The mob that attacked the embassy was largely composed not of political revolutionaries but of soccer hooligans who had gathered in the center of Cairo because they were angry at being harassed by police. When they marched on the embassy, police at first did nothing to stop them.
Diehl is a pretty serious journalist, so it's disappointing that he falls back on the otherwise apolitical "soccer hooligan" story when, in fact the embassy raid was approved by the Muslim Brotherhood (at least after the fact). Recent reports also suggest that Diehl's confidence about the security of the Coptic population is misplaced. Victor Davis Hanson asks Can Israel survive?
The Arab Middle East damns Israel for not granting a “right of return” to Palestinians who have not lived there in nearly 70 years. But it keeps embarrassed silence about the more than half-million Jews whom Arab dictatorships much later ethnically cleansed from Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo, and sent back into Israel. On cue, the Palestinian ambassador to the United States again brags that there will be no Jews allowed in his newly envisioned and American-subsidized Palestinian state — a boast with eerie historical parallels. By now we know both what will start and what will deter yet another conflict in the Middle East. In the past, wars broke out when the Arab states thought they could win them and stopped when they realized they could not. But now a new array of factors — ever more Islamist enemies of Israel such as Turkey and Iran, ever more likelihood of frontline Arab Islamist governments, ever more fear of Islamic terrorism, ever more unabashed anti-Semitism, ever more petrodollars flowing into the Middle East, ever more prospects of nuclear Islamist states, and ever more indifference by Europe and the United States — has probably convinced Israel’s enemies that finally they can win what they could not in 1947, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006.
While the Iranian threat looms larger, is Israel really more isolated now? In late 2000 after Arafat started the "Aqsa intifada" and Hezbollah violated the international border to kidnap and kill three Israeli soldiers, things seemed rather bleak. (I believe that Yossi Klein Halevi wrote an article then about the sense of foreboding over the various threats.) In 2002, when Israel finally struck back against Arafat's suicide factory, charges of Israeli brutality were broadcast non-stop, Arab leaders claimed that their people were horrified by the destruction they saw and everyone, advised restraint. Years of Israeli forbearance were quickly forgotten. (Israel did eliminate a terror threat, something tacitly acknowledged when reporter and pundits praise the Palestinian police force for keeping the peace. Omitted is any explicit acknowledgment that Defensive Shield made maintaining order possible.) I'm convinced that despite the current problems, Israel isn't going to worry about winning popularity contests and will be focused on surviving. For 18 years now, Israeli concessions have been cheerfully accepted only to be forgotten quickly when someone needs a reason to explain the failure of the peace process. As Barry Rubin recently wrote:
The Western world has shown Israel that it makes no sense for Israel to make more concessions or take risks because in general they are not going to change their perception that Israel is at fault for the lack of peace and has not shown its desire for peace after 20 years of strenuous Israeli efforts to negotiate peace. This is also despite the fact that Israel has made huge concessions, withdrawn from territory, and advocated talks on almost a daily basis. You are about to betray every previous commitment to Israel made in the peace process in exchange for its risks, concessions, and compromises--risks that have brought the death of hundreds of Israelis.
So yes, Israel is facing dangers. But I think that Israel has learned the risks of depending on its friends.

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